Sauerkraut, basically means ‘sour white cabbage’ and is quite simply fermented cabbage. It is also quite simply delicious!
Fermented foods are amazingly good for gut health. A healthy gut will result in better nutrient absorption and improved immune function. Which in turn leads to improved health and a reduction in symptoms of many health conditions. What’s not to love?
Raw is best when it comes to sauerkraut and raw sauerkraut is a fabulous source of highly beneficial probiotics (lactobacilli) and vital nutrients. It is a great source of vitamin C and vitamin K, minerals – particularly iron, and fibre. However, these days most commercially available sauerkraut has been pasteurised and the beneficial enzymes and nutrients have been killed during this process.
The best way to ensure you get all of the benefits of proper raw sauerkraut is to make your own, and it really is very easy to do. Honest!
I have to admit the thought of fermenting my own sauerkraut was a little daunting at first but I eventually got over my nerves and gave it a go and I haven’t had to buy any since!
You only need two ingredients – white cabbage, preferably organic, and salt. Simple!
As a general rule I use a little less than 1 tablespoon of salt to one cabbage, but if I can only get small cabbages I use even less than that.
This is purely a guide and doesn’t need to be precise:
- 1 white cabbage
- 1/2 – 1 tablespoon salt
Try to use an unrefined salt and make sure it is ground into a fine powder before you start. I use pink Himalayan salt and I buy it ready ground but if you can only get a course salt you can pound it down in a pestle and mortar before you start.
You’ll also need a few items of equipment but nothing too fancy.
Food processor or knife and chopping board
A food processor with a slicing blade can be a real bonus and does speed things up but a good old knife and chopping board will do the job just as well.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy a large glass jar or glass bowl will do (or two or three if you plan to make a big batch). Use something you can live without for a few weeks as the fermentation process is quite slow.
Weight of some kind
This needs to fit inside the mouth of the jar and can be a smaller glass jar filled with water. If you are using a glass bowl then a plate which will sit inside the bowl can be used with a heavier weight on top of it. Don’t use anything metallic for this as it will be in contact with the brine. Don’t seal the jar as you need to let any gases escape.
Clean tea towel or muslin square
This is for covering the jar or bowl once you have prepared the cabbage and packed it into your fermentation vessel.
Length of string or twine, or a large elastic band
This just helps to hold the towel or muslin over the jar and stops dust and/or flies getting in. This isn’t essential if you position the towel well over the jar, but it can give a bit of peace of mind that nothing is getting in that shouldn’t!
You may need smaller jars for storage once the sauerkraut is ready if you make a large batch and won’t be eating it all quickly. I have a few nice Kilner style jars but I also tend to keep all of my empty coconut oil jars and save them for storing my excess sauerkraut – I often make 5 litres at a time now so that I never run out!
And most importantly you need patience. It takes several weeks until it is ready to eat and the hardest part of the whole process is waiting for it to be ready before you start to eat it!!
Wash all of the equipment and rinse well so that there are no traces of detergent.
Reserve a couple of the outer leaves of the cabbage and shred the remainder of the cabbage finely.
In a large non-metallic bowl, rub the salt into the shredded cabbage. Imagine that you are giving the cabbage a massage and really rub that salt in! You should start to see juice seeping out from the cabbage, don’t panic this is exactly what you want. This juice will form the brine that the fermenting cabbage will be submerged in.
Pack the salted cabbage really tightly into your jar, leaving a small gap at the top. Adding small layers of cabbage and pressing each one firmly can be easier than trying to press down a jar-full of cabbage all at once.
Place one or two of the reserved cabbage leaves into the jar to cover the surface of the cabbage and pour in any liquid that is left in the bowl.
Place your weight on top of the cabbage leaf layer and press down firmly.
Cover with your cloth and tie with string or an elastic band.
Brine forms over night
After about 24 hours you should see that more juice – brine – has been released from the cabbage and that all of the cabbage is submerged below the surface of the brine. Give the cabbage a good press down to allow any gases to escape and if there isn’t sufficient liquid it may be necessary to add a little salt water, but do wait a good 24 hours before adding extra salt water as the time taken for the juices to come out of the cabbage will vary depending on the heat of your kitchen and on how well you massaged the salt into the cabbage.
When the cabbage is nicely submerged under the brine, weighted and covered you just need to leave it somewhere coolish to ferment. Temperature doesn’t need to be precise but fermentation speed will be affected by temperature, a cooler area (but not fridge cold) results in slower fermentation and this ultimately will produce a better end result.
During the fermentation process keep an eye on your cabbage to ensure it all stays below the surface of the brine. Check every day or two and, if necessary, give it a press down to help any gases escape and keep the shredded cabbage submerged.
The best way to check if it is ready is to taste.
After about 10 days have a taste to see how it’s doing. Remove the cabbage leaf layer and take a small amount if the shredded cabbage out to taste it. I generally can’t help myself but start eating it at this stage. The flavour will develop over time and the longer you wait the tastier it will become but basically it is ready when it tastes pleasantly sour kind of like a pickle.
Once you are happy with the flavour you can either transfer into smaller glass jars, or leave it in the large jar, and refrigerate.
If you’ve made a big batch and then put it into smaller jars for storage the unopened smaller jars will keep for a long time (up to a year) in the fridge but if you choose to leave it in the large jar you will need to eat it all within a few weeks.
So, what do you do with all of this lovely fermented cabbage?
I have to confess that in my house it often doesn’t make it to the table and a quick pre-dinner snack of sauerkraut is quite common!!
But assuming you don’t want to stand at the fridge door eating it, here are a few ideas:
- It is a fab salad ingredient so any time you’re having salad you can add sauerkraut
- It’s a great healthy alternative to coleslaw
- You can chop it up and use it as a garnish on the top of soup or a stew
- Add a spoonful to the blender when you’re making a green veg smoothie
- Why not try using it as a filling in homemade veggie sushi rolls
- Mix some through mashed potatoes just before serving
- Or just simply add it to your plate as a condiment alongside your usual meal.
For the best health benefits you need to eat sauerkraut raw as cooking it will kill off the friendly bacteria. However, that’s not to say you should never, ever use it in cooking. It can make a great substitution in any dish where cabbage would usually be used, just be careful it doesn’t make your dish too salty.
I hope this has sparked some interest and you’re now thinking of venturing into the world of fermentation. Once you start, you’ll quickly realise that fermentation isn’t just limited to cabbage, there’s a whole new world of fermented food out there just waiting to be discovered.
There are masses of helpful articles online but, if you’d like to get a good book to learn from, I would highly recommend ‘Wild Fermentation’ by Sandor Katz, I found this to be an amazing resource.